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"What we've got here is a failure to communicate." Cool Hand Luke

Once upon a time, companies like Disney were outliers, calling their theme park staff "actors." How the tables have turned! The parks are all closed for now, and like it or not, every professional taking part in video conferences has become an actor.

Some of the most popular Youtube videos are those focusing on lighting, hardware, and software designed to make us look better. In a way, this makes sense, since, according to Albert Mehrabian's oft-quoted research, "how you look" contributes more toward receiving a positive response than does either how you sound or what you say. A positive image is created visually.

So it's no wonder many of us want to invest at least some time in how we look before jumping onto our next Zoom meeting. If you haven't already checked out any of those videos, I can save you some time: 1) Set your camera at approximately eye level; 2) ensure you have adequate light in front of you (rather than behind or above), 3) frame yourself so as to be well positioned on the screen, and not too large or too small. If you also care to present a "professional" image, women may want a little (not a lot) more make-up than you wear to work, and men may want to wear a collared shirt rather than a t-shirt or a hoodie. That's all.

And it's not. There's a lot to be learned before becoming proficient at leading or presenting during these virtual meetings. Just knowing the difference between a "meeting" and "webinar," for example, seems to be taking time to break through the mind fog of "work from home" professionals.

A "webinar,"according to Zoom, is meant for one-to-many presentations. It's like a broadcast; whereas a meeting is meant for interaction. The distinction may be subtle, but the majority of "meetings" I've been attending recently are really webinars with some opportunity for questions if you'll raise your hand. This sometimes sort of works, but it's not ideal. People are lulled to "sleep" much quicker than when in person, unless the speaker is incredibly dynamic and the topic super on target for a particular audience.

This seems to be lost on the average presenter/speaker, and up till now, participants, stuck at home for the most part, are more likely to log in and stay logged in than they will be once they're free to do other things. So unless you're a popular podcaster or DJ who can entertain audiences without an interviewee, I suggest ramping up real interaction. If you have a large group, use the "polling" function. It's engaging, you get real-time responses, and polling gives everyone in your audience something to do other than to sit and watch. Use polling to survey opinions, suss out questions, and if you're really daring, to see if people are actually processing your material accurately.

It's not for the faint of heart. Results of polling reveal just how little communication is taking place.

Or make quick break-out groups. Let people briefly process and discuss what they think "so far" for just 3 minutes. What's one question they have? Then bring them back. Now have them post their questions in chat. Later put them in pairs. Have them discuss: What surprised them? What are they still wondering about? These take next to no time at all to implement. Let's be creative and come up with new ways to engage, to attract and keep attention, for as long as the meeting goes.

Speaking of which, there's no harm in ending a meeting before the allotted time. I have a friend, a big fan of colorful language, who puts it like this: "With 5 or 10 minutes till the hour is up, and we've covered everything on the agenda, why is there always some idiot who has to bring up some hypothetical BS topic that's never going to f-ing happen...and I gotta pee!" I hear you. The one caveat to ending early is if you have promised a Q & A session, and someone has been waiting to ask a question, and then you suddenly end the meeting. Bad move.

We're doing more video conferences than we ever planned on, and just like the movie, they're bringing out "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Speaking of ugly...

Have you heard of the "transcribe" option open to Zoom enterprise customers? It's great and it's awful. The "transcribe" option accurately records, in text, what people say during a Zoom meeting or webinar. Warning: The system is deadly accurate, and will include all your filler words. One recent speaker said "you know" 15 times in less than 2 minutes, and continued apace. If he were to see his comments transcribed, he would likely (and rightfully) be mortified. Toastmasters knows this, which is why they assign an "um/ah" counter. The counter reports at the end of their meetings, and some members feel rightly embarrassed as they pay fines for each infraction. How would they feel seeing their filler words in black and white? Here's an example:

"Well, you know, the report we have here, you know, kind of shows how we're ah, you know, still growing, but, you know, it's not at all clear, that ah, you know, we'll stay on this positive trajectory." That painful example is, sadly, not an exaggeration. The most infamous "you know" video doomed Caroline Kennedy's run for a Senate seat a few years ago. You're probably not running for Senate, but we're watching your "performance" on a screen just the same.

Andy Bergin (founder of Speaking Virtually) yesterday reminded me to remind you: "It's not the technology that matters–it's the person using the technology that makes the difference." So in your next action role, that is, your next video meeting: Be Good, not Bad, not Ugly!

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